2015 Honda CR-V: Defending Its Compact SUV Crown – Forbes
The SUV market is up this year. Way up. At Kelley Blue Book we’ve watched shopper traffic migrate from midsize and compact sedans to the SUV category for over 18 months. And within the growing SUV market the compact SUV segment is leading the charge. Americans, along with an increasing chunk of the rest of the world, are in love with these vehicles. And why not. They sit at what is arguably the perfect intersection between size, price, maneuverability, fuel economy and flexibility. Just leaving the nest and heading to college? A small SUV will haul your belongings to the dorm at an affordable MSRP. Starting a new family and need room for car seats and carriages? A compact crossover offers adequate space and a relatively low monthly fuel bill. Ditto for retirees looking to make cross-country jaunts — with or without the grand kids in tow. It’s this wide range of demographic appeal that’s driving small SUVs sales through the roof. Sure, other SUVs might offer more space or performance or luxury or status, but they all cost more to buy, fuel and insure.
And if compact SUVs are the hot ticket, the Honda CR-V is the sun at the center of this segment. It’s led the way in small SUV sales for over 10 years, hitting its best numbers ever in 2013 with over 300,000 CR-Vs sold. Honda’s CR-V continues to lead the segment this year, with 241,000 units sold through September. That puts the CR-V up another 5 percent, an encouraging figure…until one considers the segment is up 15 percent. That disparity in growth means Honda is losing share to its competition, a trend the automaker hopes to counter with a refreshed 2015 Honda CR-V. The updated model features a host of improvements, ranging from exterior and interior upgrades to improved drivetrain components and advanced driver assist technology.
The 2015 Honda CR-V’s exterior changes aren’t hit-you-over-the-head dramatic, but they do give the vehicle a cleaner, more cohesive front grille with functional improvements in the form of available LED daytime running lights (DRLs). These DRLs come standard on the EX, EX-L and Touring trims, the latter of which is the new top-end trim for 2015. The new Touring trim also features projector low-beam headlights and new 18-inch wheels with an aggressive multi-contour pattern that gives the CR-V some much-appreciated attitude. The EX and EX-L trims continue to feature 17-inch wheels, though they are .5-inches wider this year. Base CR-V LX models still ride on 16-inch wheels, and these models don’t offer LED daytime runnings lightss, though they do get some new standard features we’ll cover in a moment.
The 2015 CR-V’s interior improvements are more substantial than its exterior styling tweaks. An increase in material quality over the previous CR-V is immediately apparent, with seating, dash and door panel surfaces offering a richer, less reflective texture. Honda’s dual display screen system remains, with a new 7-inch touchscreen just above the climate controls and a 5-inch (non-touch) screen in the upper dash. This system continues to get mixed reviews, with some drivers feeling it raises the question of which screen to look at any given moment. Less controversial is the CR-V’s new center console and armrest. It features a single, elevated pad instead of the previous model’s fold-down armrest, but more impressive are the functional air vents at the rear of this console. This means second-row passengers will feel the effects of heated or cooled cabin air much quicker.
Honda also revised the CR-V’s drivetrain for 2015, adding direct injection to the 2.4-liter engine and pairing it with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) that replaces the outgoing 5-speed automatic. A CVT doesn’t normally enhance a vehicle’s driving enjoyment, but Honda gets credit for having the most engaging CVTs on the market. During casual driving the engine and CVT respond as expected, but when flooring the throttle Honda allows the CR-V’s engine to slowly rev up as the vehicle accelerates. This is in contrast to most CVTs, which just pick the engine’s most efficient RPM and hold it there — in a mind-numbing drone — while the CVT changes gear ratios to accelerate the vehicle. By engineering this transmission response, and pairing it with the 2.4-liter’s 11 percent increase in torque for 2015, Honda has kept the CR-V’s trademark fun-to-drive factor intact.
In fact, Honda has actually enhanced the 2015 CR-V’s driving dynamics with new spring and shock settings and upgraded suspension arms. These changes combine with the engine’s increased torque, a revised brake system and the wider wheels mentioned above to make the CR-V among the most confident and driver-focused models in the segment. All this fun comes with substantially improved fuel efficiency, too. The engine’s new direct injection fuel system lets the 2015 Honda CR-V’s EPA ratings grow from last year’s 23 city, 31 highway and 26 combined mpg to 27/34/29 mpg for front wheel drive models. All-wheel drive CR-Vs have moved from 22/30/25 mpg to 26/33/28 mpg.
Of course an argument could be made that small SUV shoppers prioritize safety over driving dynamics, which is why Honda has picked the 2015 CR-V to debut its new “Honda Sensing” package of driver assistance technologies. We’ll likely see this array of driver aids across the entire Honda model line in the next few years, but for now only the CR-V combines adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, LaneWatch, forward collision warning and Honda’s Collision Mitigation Braking System into one package (available on Touring models). While adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning aren’t new or unique technologies, Honda’s LaneWatch system (which uses a camera in the passenger mirror to effectively eliminate blind spots) is only available on Honda products. We also like how Honda tuned its lane keeping assist system to modulate steering input and reduce lane drift without overtly hindering driver control.
This combination of technology can be found in other models, but not in other compact SUVs, giving Honda’s 2015 CR-V the upper hand in advanced safety — assuming shoppers are willing to pay for it. The base CR-V LX costs $24,150 for a two-wheel-drive model or $25,400 for an all-wheel-driver version. That’s the same price as last year’s LX but it now includes the new console/armrest (with rear vents) along with new sliding sun visors. The EX now starts at $26,050, which is up by $200 but features (according to Honda) $1,400 in additional standard equipment, including a heated and 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, keyless start, the 7-inch touchscreen display and Honda’s LaneWatch system. The EX also includes a sunroof, 17-inch wheels, auto headlights, fog lights and variable wipers. The EX-L adds leather seats, automatic dual-zone climate control and XM radio for a starting price of $28,850, while the EX-L Navi adds a navigation system and starts at $30,350.
The top-line Touring comes with 18-inch wheels, the full suite of Honda Sensing technology discussed above, a power tailgate, driver’s seat memory and HomeLink for $32,350. Thirty-plus-thousand dollars for a small SUV certainly isn’t cheap, but the look, feel, driving confidence and advanced technology found on Honda’s 2015 CR-V Touring puts it ahead of anything in the compact SUV category and on par with luxury models costing thousands more. And even if a small percentage of CR-V buyers goes all in for the Touring model, the upgrades Honda added across the entire 2015 CR-V line should keep it ahead of the ever-improving competition.
Karl Brauer has spent over 20 years working in the automotive industry as a writer, analyst, web designer, online business consultant and media representative.